Author: Evan Kilgore
Writer’s Potential: 3
A poor car-wash attendant thinks he’s dreaming of a life of wealth and goregous women, until he wakes up and finds out it’s real.
Ten years ago, 17-year-old ANDREW watches his father LOU make a drug deal with mobster ALEXANDER BOYLE. In the present, LEM BRENNER works at a car wash. He’s poor, his wife JULIA is fed up with him, and it seems most of his life is spent at a bar with friends OWEN and NEIL. When Lem forgets “date night,” Julia locks herself in the den, leaving Andrew to sleep alone. He has what he thinks is a dream of going to an exclusive yacht party, driving a Mercedes, owning a mansion, and sleeping with gorgeous NINA. Everyone keeps calling him “Tom,” and he runs into Alexander Boyle at the party. When Lem wakes up the next morning in the mansion, he realizes it’s all true. He also realizes gunmen are after him, though he doesn’t know why. He leaves Nina and goes back to his “real” life—except with the Mercedes, which he shows off to all his friends and co-workers. In the Mercedes he finds an address scratched on the back of a business card. This starts an investigation—at the address he finds WAYLAND, a singer from the party the previous night. Wayland doesn’t know who he is or what he wants and asks Lem to leave. Lem tries to piece together the events of last night, revealed through flashbacks. He also recalls through flashbacks the events of 10 years ago—getting into a car accident with his six-year-old son MATT and Lou’s son, Andrew.
To impress angry Julia, Lem takes shows her the Mercedes and takes her to the mansion. He claims an uncle died and left it all to him. Julia finds a receipt for the Olympic Hotel and demands an explanation. Lem lies, saying he wanted to give her the option of a mansion or a cheap motel. Later that night, Lem gets a call from Owen. Lem meets him at the bar, but when he mistakes an attractive girl for Nina, he freaks out and leaves. In the Mercedes, he finds a Caprice with a Gunman driving pulls up alongside him. This leads to a chase, which Lem narrowly escapes. Back at the mansion, Julia’s gone—she found Nina’s bra from the previous night and left an angry note. Lem goes to spend the night at Owen’s. He’s awakened a few hours later by COPS who have come to check out the noise. Lem leaves the others sleeping and sneaks out the back door. At his apartment, Lem finds an angry message from Julia on their answering machine. He also discovers it’s being watched by the Caprice. He sneaks away in the Mercedes and goes to the docks where the yacht party was held. He bribes the VALET for information, and he gives Lem Nina’s address. The Caprice shows up and Lem makes another narrow escape. He goes back to his apartment and has an awkward moment with Julia. Lem drives to Malibu to find Nina. She says odd things that imply she knows more about the situation than she’s letting on. Two Jeeps chase after them. Lem and Nina escape to the Interstate in his Mercedes. The Jeeps fire rockets at them. Lem takes a downtown exit, and Nina forces them to stop—right in front of the Olympic Hotel. He realizes Nina is probably in on the whole thing when he recognizes her shoes—a pair identical to one he saw at Wayland’s home. They come across Julia at the hotel. She’s not pleased to see Lem with Nina. They argue, and she stalks off. Lem and Nina take a cab to Wayland’s house and find it empty, abandoned. A MERCENARY comes to take them out. Lem manages to escape, but Nina isn’t so lucky.
Lem goes to the police, a SERGEANT DIETZ, to report getting shot at. Dietz points out Lem’s picture on a wanted poster, with the name “TOM GOLDSTEIN,” wanted in connection with the death of Alexander Boyle. Lem convinces Dietz that he has the wrong man—Lem isn’t “Tom Goldstein.” Deitz runs Lem’s license and grudgingly lets him go. Lem—at this point looking like a bum—manages to get a lawyer’s business card. He goes to a department store to buy new clothes, gets himself all decked-out and smooth-looking, and returns to the police station. He speaks with DETECTIVE GREGOR, saying he’s Boyle’s lawyer. Gregor doesn’t believe him. Lem returns to the apartment, where Julia shows him separation papers. She’s kidnapped almost immediately. The police bust in and search his place. They find the bloody knife that killed Boyle. They arrest Lem, who calls Owen and has him use Tom Goldstein’s financial resources to bail him out. Once out, Lem realizes several things: he actually did kill Boyle (but was set up), when he was in the car accident that killed Matt and Andrew it was because Andrew had stolen drugs from Lou that belonged to Boyle, they were run off the road by Wayland (who worked for Boyle)—and Lou is behind the whole setup. Lem finally has to spill the beans—apparently he told Lou that Andrew ran off to join the navy, and he told Julia that Matt was kidnapped. He admits what happened, then pins it all on Wayland (who’s helping Lou). Lou is so angry that he causes another car accident. Lem wakes up in the hospital, with Julia in the next bed. Nina shows up, explains that she helped because Lou was her father, and emphasizes that Lem should be paying attention to his wife.
On the positive side: the scenes at the beginning that establishes Lem’s character—his daily routine, his habit of lying, his marital problems, etc.—that all works pretty well. The reappearance of Julia periodically to continue that conflict also works, building toward that resolution where Lem can finally value his wife at the end.
However, this screenplay is packed to the gills with logic problems that render the story first incomprehensible, then just plain improbable:
- When Lem wakes up to the sounds of gun-toting scumbags beating on his door and has to make a deft escape, why does he think it’s a good idea to take his wife back there? Especially when he didn’t even bother to remove the “evidence” of his infidelity the night before?
- If I understand the basic conspiracy, it goes like this: to avenge his son, Lou wanted to not just frame Lem for Boyle’s death—he wanted to get him into a drugged state where he’d actually commit the crime. The ultimate goal, one assumes, is so that Lou can get some justice. It’s never really clear why Lou wants Boyle dead, why Wayland would go along with his own father’s murder, or why they’d send people to try and kill Lem when their main goal is to have him arrested and convicted of murder. Is that not their goal? If not, what’s the point of setting up the whole conspiracy in the first place? Why not just kill him?
- In the same vein, what’s the purpose of providing Lem/”Tom” with a mansion, a fancy car, credit cards, etc.? All he has to do is exactly what he does: go back home, go back to work, realize this is a “fake” life. They go to great expense to get Lem to “accept” this fake life, but they don’t think he’d be curious enough about how he got this life to find out any information? Even if he isn’t, sending mercenaries to hunt him down seems like it’d make even the least curious person just a little bit interested in what’s going on with this fake life.
- They also seem to provide him with just enough clues to put together the whole conspiracy, which seems like it’d be the antithesis of what they want. People going to the trouble and expense of creating an identity out of thin air would hopefully be smart enough to tie up loose ends like having key players’ addresses written down, hotel receipts in pockets, etc.
- The mysterious house in the Hollywood Hills. It seems like an odd setup that’s never cleared up. Is this where Wayland actually lives? Did he clear out as soon as he knew Lem was on to him? As written, it kind of seems like an intentional layer of mind-fucking, but to what end? The visits to that house are some of the most helpful parts of Lem figuring out the conspiracy, so just what’s going on there needs to be made clear.
- Sergeant Dietz scoffs at Lem for giving what he assumes is a fake ID. When he runs it and finds out it’s real, he gets angry but lets Lem go. He doesn’t think that, perhaps, “Tom Goldstein” is an alias? Or that “Tom” pasted his picture onto Lem’s real driver’s license (therefore all the information would check out)? Or that a guy accused of murdering a known mobster wouldn’t have the resources to plant plenty of legitimate-but-fake IDs in police databases? Why would Dietz let him go?
- From the beginning of the script, it’s clear that Lem lies constantly, but he’s possibly the worst liar I’ve ever seen. It’s very difficult to believe he could have kept the charade involving Andrew and Matt going for any length of time. Even if he did—why? Obviously Lou is fond of blood-vendettas, but considering how easily he accepts that Lem was pushed off the road by somebody else because Andrew had his cocaine, it seems really crazy that Lem would keep it a secret. Lou could put two and two together and realize Lem’s telling the truth. Lem can feel guilty all he wants, but he wasn’t responsible for the accident. Even the police (who obviously handled the situation; Lou mentions a police report) didn’t find him responsible/negligent, so why the big cover-up? I’m not saying he doesn’t have to cover it up or lie about it, but (a) make him a better liar, and (b) make it clear exactly why he felt he needed to lie to both Julia and Lou about everything for a decade.
- Big loose end: Lem actually did kill Boyle (didn’t he? if not, that’s unclear). So sure, he survives and unravels the conspiracy, but he’s still got a murder rap to beat. Considering he actually did the crime, this might not be easy.
Aside from this, another big problem pops up on page one: the short scene involving Andrew, Lou, and Boyle. It makes everything too obvious—we know it’s going to come back to those three in the end. By the time we realize Andrew is most likely dead in a car accident (which is obvious long before it’s fully shown to be true) and Boyle was murdered recently, the Lou reveal is pretty obvious. There’s nobody else it could be.
It seems kind of silly that Wayland is Boyle’s son, and as I pointed out it creates a logic problem as far as why he’d allow Boyle’s murder to take place. Making him hired muscle, willing to do anything for the highest bidder, makes it far more believable and loses the necessity for an explanation for why he wants Boyle dead; his only loyalty is to money, so Boyle doesn’t matter. It’s also a little too neat and tidy that not only is he Boyle’s son, but Nina is Lou’s daughter. It oversimplifies the motivations—both Wayland and Nina are willing to commit crimes (or force others to commit crimes) out of nothing but family loyalty? It diminishes their characters by not giving them any ulterior motives or shades of gray.